Native Son

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Bigger Thomas Character Analysis

The novel’s protagonist, Bigger is involved with a gang at the beginning of the novel, but his run-ins with the law, and his illegal activities, are minimal. Nevertheless Bigger is defined by his rage: against his mother, the rest of his family, his friends, and those whom he believes have not given him a chance in life. Bigger is hired to work at the Dalton house—home of a wealthy, white communist-leaning Chicago family—and on the first night of his job, after spending time with Mary Dalton and her friend Jan, Bigger accidentally kills Mary, then begins covering up the crime. This cover-up includes Bigger’s later murder of Bessie, his girlfriend, and leads to his trial and conviction for rape and homicide. Bigger is sentenced to death at the end of the novel, although his interactions with his sympathetic lawyer, Max, cause Bigger to gain some insight into why he chose to kill in the first place.

Bigger Thomas Quotes in Native Son

The Native Son quotes below are all either spoken by Bigger Thomas or refer to Bigger Thomas. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Whiteness, Blackness, and Racism Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Harper Perennial edition of Native Son published in 1993.
Book 1 Quotes

You scared your sister with that rat and she fainted! Ain’t you got no sense at all
? Aw, I didn’t know she was that scary.

Related Characters: Bigger Thomas (speaker), Ma Thomas (speaker), Vera Thomas
Page Number: 7
Explanation and Analysis:

From the beginning of the novel, Bigger is portrayed as someone who causes, rather than alleviates, trouble. He is anxious and already on the verge of small (though significant) violence when he is at home, cooped up in a small apartment with his sister and brother and mother. Bigger knows that his behavior with the rat, whom he views as an invader to the home, will cause his mother and sister to become frightened - but what counteracts this knowledge is Bigger's overwhelming desire to act, and to act with force, upon the world at large.

Thus Bigger is not, even at the beginning of the novel, unaware of the consequences of his actions. But the narrator points out that consequences and an awareness of them are not enough for Bigger. His impulsiveness, his energy, and his anger at the world push him out of the apartment and into a situation from which there is no easy means of escape. 

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If you get that job . . . I can fix up a nice place for you children. You could be comfortable and not have to live like pigs.

Related Characters: Ma Thomas (speaker), Bigger Thomas
Page Number: 11
Explanation and Analysis:

Although Bigger is still a young man, he is the oldest man in the house, and as such, his mother wants him to work, rather than wasting his energy hanging around a pool hall with this friends, as Bigger often does. The job that Bigger can get is that of a driver for a wealthy white family on the South Side of Chicago, in a neighborhood vastly different from the collection of tenements in which Bigger currently lives.

Thus Bigger's mother wants her son to succeed, in part for his own development, and in part so that Bigger's wages can help the family, can raise his sister Vera and his brother Buddy somewhat out of poverty. Bigger's mother does not attempt to hide her aspirations for her son - indeed, she pressures him to achieve (monetarily) outside the home, so that all in the family might benefit. This desire for achievement kickstarts the sequence of dramatic events in the novel. 

God, I’d like to fly up there in that sky.
God’ll let you fly when He gives you your wings up in heaven.

Related Characters: Bigger Thomas (speaker), Gus (speaker)
Page Number: 17
Explanation and Analysis:

Bigger is attracted to the sky, and to the planes in the sky, because he sees them as symbols of freedom and escape. The plan can seemingly soar above whatever petty problems are taking place on the earth. And planes, of course, are filled with people who can fly, who have the professional opportunity to take to the air. Bigger wants the skills of a pilot, and he wants to leave the neighborhood in which he was raised. And yet this is impossible for him to achieve, because as a black man he would never be allowed the education and opportunity to become a pilot. Thus for Bigger, flying a plane is even less likely to happen than flying around as an angel in heaven (as Gus says here).

Because of this, the plane as symbol is not an unknown thing to Bigger. He is aware that, in looking at the sky, he is looking at an object of special fascination for himself. The question of what Bigger knows, and does not know, about himself is an interesting and important one. No reader could argue that Bigger is unaware of his anger, nor of his own ambition. The question is what Bigger does to help, or to hurt, himself as the novel progresses - to alter his life for the better or the worse. 

You’re scared ‘cause he’s a white man?
Naw. But Blum keeps a gun. Suppose he beats us to it?
Aw, you scared; that’s all. He’s a white man and you scared.

Related Characters: Bigger Thomas (speaker), Gus (speaker), Blum
Page Number: 23
Explanation and Analysis:

Bigger takes Gus to task in this scene. He does so because, as the acknowledged leader of the group, Bigger believes it is his responsibility to make sure everyone is in line with, and on board with, a potential robbery of the pool hall. Because Bigger notes that Gus is reluctant to go ahead with the idea, he angrily calls out Gus's masculinity, and argues that Gus is only willing to harm those whom he believes to be socially equal to himself - in other words, other people of color.

Thus the fact that the pool hall owner is a white man causes Bigger to argue that Gus is afraid of committing a crime against exactly that population that Bigger believes is most deserving of young criminality - the white population, that group of people who own many of the businesses in the region, and whose economic power often disenfranchises people of color. 

At least the fight made him feel the equal of them. And he felt the equal of Doc, too; had he not slashed his table and dared him to use his gun?

Related Characters: Bigger Thomas, Doc
Page Number: 41
Explanation and Analysis:

At this point in the novel, Bigger believes that violence is a way of "evening the score" with those around him, of showing that he is up to any challenge and can make a mark upon life, that he can prove himself when confronted. Bigger does not believe that there are other meaningful ways of interacting with the world. He is, as the narrator describes him, a young man who moves on impulse, who wants to see what he can ask the world for, what he can take from it.

This scene in the pool hall, then, shows how quickly and easily Bigger can come to violence - and how his friends in the small group, who typically do not shy away from acts of petty criminality, are nonetheless afraid of Bigger, worried what he might do. Bigger has no motivation for his outbursts other than the vague feeling that the world isn't fair, and that he must do something serious and abrupt to change or stop that unfair world. 

He hated himself at that moment. Why was he acting and feeling this way? He wanted to wave his hand and blot out the white man who was making him feel this.

Related Characters: Bigger Thomas, Mr. Dalton
Page Number: 47
Explanation and Analysis:

During his meeting with Henry Dalton, Bigger is terrified he will say the wrong thing - that he won't know how to behave around a man with so much money and power. Indeed, Dalton owns the very apartment building in which the Thomas family lives. But Bigger is struck by another impulse - that he is angry at Mr. Dalton for causing him to feel the way he does, for forcing Bigger, through no overt exertion of power, to be silent, to stumble for his words.

Thus Bigger realizes, in his interactions in the Dalton house, just how power can operate outside the "Black Belt" community in which he was born and raised. There, violence is a major way of effecting power, of getting people to do what you want. But in this part of the South Side, where the Daltons live, power is exercised in an entirely different way - with persuasion, with money, with the idea that certain activities are reserved for certain higher levels of society. 

First of all . . . don’t say sir to me. I’ll call you Bigger and you’ll call me Jan. That’s the way it’ll be between us.

Related Characters: Jan (speaker), Bigger Thomas
Page Number: 66
Explanation and Analysis:

Jan is an avowed communist, who works for the betterment of all people - so he says. He is involved with Mary Dalton, who, despite her family's enormous wealth and privilege (based on capitalistic success), has committed herself also to certain communist ideals - or at least to learning more about those ideals. Jan's and Mary's communist ideology, at this point in the novel, makes very little sense to Bigger.

This is, in a way, because Bigger lives the life that Jan and Mary study from the outside. Jan and Mary do not understand what it's like to grow up in a shabby tenement, without any privacy. They are educated, and they are afforded other privileges (beyond those of money) by being white, by moving in a society that is entirely removed from that of Bigger. For all this, however, their desire to get to know Bigger is genuine - even if, at base, they cannot really know him, and can only spend time with him and condescendingly project onto him what they think he is, and what his life is like. 

The reality of the room fell from him; the vast city of white people that sprawled outside took its place. She was dead and he had killed her. He was a murderer, a Negro murderer, a black murderer. He had killed a white woman. He had to get away from here.

Related Characters: Bigger Thomas, Mary Dalton
Page Number: 87
Explanation and Analysis:

Bigger does not mean to kill Mary Dalton - indeed, he has nothing against her. He and Jan and Mary have had a strange though not a bad time on the evening of the murder. Jan and Mary have gotten to know Bigger, and Bigger has observed them as people who are sympathetic to his life but fundamentally different from it - as do-gooders who wish to know more about the world beyond the white communities of the South Side.

Bigger kills Mary, ironically enough, because he is afraid of what Mrs. Dalton and others might think of him in her bedroom at night. He kills, then, because he already expects a white family to think he is doing something wrong, or criminal, with Mary - that he has gotten her drunk and tried to take advantage of her, or has persuaded her into the vice of drinking itself. Bigger therefore kills because he feels he has no way out - only to realize that, in killing, he has sealed his fate, forcing himself to live permanently on the run from an entire "city of white people."

He was not crying but his lips were trembling and his chest was heaving. He wanted to lie down upon the floor and sleep off the horror of this thing. . . . Quickly, he wrapped the head in the newspaper . . . then he shoved the head in. The hatchet went next.

Related Characters: Bigger Thomas, Mary Dalton
Related Symbols: The Furnace
Page Number: 92
Explanation and Analysis:

This is one of the most gruesome scenes in the book. Again, Bigger does not chop up Mary because he wants to do this, or because he derives any pleasure from it. Rather, he believes he must do so in order to hide the body. The line of reasoning is, for him, perfectly logical - he must dispose of the body so that no one finds out about the murder - and he must do it quickly and efficiently. But in a context removed from this one, of course, Bigger's behavior is enormously irrational. He has, after all, killed out of fear, and now he is burning the corpse out of fear. His desire not to be caught causes him to commit further and further criminal acts, from which, fearfully, he feels he must run. The book is now structured as a series of consequences of Bigger's fatal, tragic  act, the accidental killing of Mary - and the manner by which he eludes, for a time, the authorities who zero in on him. 

Book 2 Quotes

You’ve got a good job, now . . . You ought to work hard and keep it and try to make a man out of yourself. Some day you’ll want to get married and have a home of your own . . . .

Related Characters: Ma Thomas (speaker), Bigger Thomas
Page Number: 101
Explanation and Analysis:

Ma Thomas's words here are, of course, sickeningly ironic - for Bigger has no future, and there is no potential life of marriage and stability for him. He is a killer, now, and a fugitive, who has returned home not knowing where else to go - and who realizes that, after a short while, the Daltons will realize that Mary is missing, and will attempt to find her by any means necessary. Bigger has a sense, as his mother is speaking, that his life has changed entirely, and that his future - which only the day before lay in the Daltons' hands - is now one of ceaseless running, the life of a lonely fugitive.

Ma Thomas, at this point in the novel, has not abandoned the hope that Bigger will "reform" himself, that he will take on familial responsibilities and settle into a calmer, less violent life. Of course, this is not the path that the novel takes over the ensuing sections. 

Bigger stepped back, thunder-struck. He felt in his pocket for the money; it was not there. He took the money from Buddy and stuffed it hurriedly in his pocket.

Related Characters: Bigger Thomas, Buddy Thomas
Page Number: 110
Explanation and Analysis:

At this point, Bigger begins making mistakes (apart, of course, from the series of enormously horrific acts he committed at the Daltons, not least of which was murdering and dismembering Mary Dalton). That is - he becomes less and less adept at covering up the traces of his crime. One of those is the money he has taken from the Dalton family, which he knows he must conceal. And yet, at the crucial moment, when he is to walk out the door and head back to the Dalton house, he leaves this money behind, and his innocent and unsuspecting brother, Buddy, finds it.

Bigger knows that it is unlikely Buddy will tell anyone about the money - at least on purpose. But Bigger also senses that the mistakes he's making here are mistakes he might make in other venues - if, say, he has to talk to the Daltons or to the police. He worries, then, that he will reveal his guilt without meaning to. 

Ultimately, though, his hate and hope turned outward from himself and Gus: his hope toward a vague benevolent something that would help and lead him, and his hate toward the whites; for he felt that they ruled him, even when they were far away and not thinking of him . . . .

Related Characters: Bigger Thomas, Gus
Page Number: 115
Explanation and Analysis:

Bigger is a changed man when he sees his friends the day after the murder. Naturally, he is changed because of the crime he has committed - but his friends believe he is changed because he is now working for the powerful Dalton family. The narrator plays on this irony - that Bigger's friends do not know what he's done, and are in awe of him - and Bigger himself feels that, perhaps, as he stands with his friends, he might imagine some future that is beyond his immediate circumstances, beyond the crime and the difficulty of living in Chicago's Black Belt.

But this dream only lasts so long. Although Bigger enjoys feeling that his friends are in awe of his new-found money (in relative terms), he knows he must go back to the Daltons, and at this point, things will become much more difficult. He will have to pretend he knows nothing about Mary's disappearance - and because Bigger is so easily flustered around the Daltons, it is precisely this kind of pretending that will be difficult for him to manage. 

A woman was a dangerous burden when a man was running away. He had read of how men had been caught because of women, and he did not want that to happen to him. But, if, yes, but if he told her, yes, just enough to get her to work with him?

Related Characters: Bigger Thomas, Bessie
Page Number: 142
Explanation and Analysis:

On the one hand, Bigger knows that Bessie will support him, that she cares for him and - most importantly, in his mind - that she is afraid of him. Bessie seems to sense that, for Bigger, there is an anger welling up inside, a hatred of oppressive white populations and also of people more generally. Bessie knows that Bigger is capable of violence, perhaps even horrible violence.

Thus, when Bigger tells Bessie part of the truth, that he wishes to take a ransom for Mary and Jan, Bessie feels that there is little she can do. She is worried that, if she opposes Bigger, he will try to harm her. And she perhaps senses that Bigger is not being totally honest with her, that he is only tell her a part of the story. Bessie, even more so than Bigger, is hemmed in - unable to make a free choice. She can only do what she must do in order to survive.  

He was confident. During the last day and night new fears had come, but new feelings had helped to allay those fears. The moment when he had stood above Mary’s bed and found that she was dead the fear of electrocution had entered his flesh and blood. . . . As long as he could take his life into his own hands and dispose of it as he pleased . . . he need not be afraid.

Related Characters: Bigger Thomas, Mary Dalton
Page Number: 149
Explanation and Analysis:

This is an important scene in the novel. Bigger is, at this moment, still largely under the influence of alcohol, which he has consumed with Bessie. When Bessie drinks, she becomes more and more amenable to Bigger's plan, if only as a means of survival. When Bigger drinks, he finds that he is more and more confident, that he no longer worries that he will be caught and executed - that, perhaps, he can even profit off of Mary's death by collecting a ransom and running away with Bessie.

These thoughts flood Bigger's consciousness and nearly cause him to forget what he has done, that he has committed murder. Bigger vacillates between fear on the one hand and anger on the other, between a certainty that he will be caught and a certainty that he will be able to trick all those involved. Bessie, for her part, continues only to worry, to sense that danger is just around the corner - and to attempt to save herself in the process, while realizing that she cannot escape from Bigger while he is still alive and a free man. 

You are a Communist, you goddamn black sonofabitch! And you’re going to tell me about Miss Dalton and that Jan bastard!

Related Characters: Britten (speaker), Bigger Thomas, Mary Dalton , Jan
Page Number: 161
Explanation and Analysis:

Britten is the first person in the Dalton household, after the investigation formally begins, to sense that Bigger might somehow be involved in Mary's disappearance. Of course, everyone knows that Bigger was the hired chauffeur, driving the car that carried Mary and Jan. Suspicions fell initially on Jan, whose communist sympathies were enough to raise a red flag to the authorities. But now Britten notes that Bigger seems nervous, that he has trouble stating exactly what he was doing the two nights previous and explaining what he knows about Mary's disappearance. 

Britten, interestingly enough, however, pegs some of Bigger's guilt on the idea that he is a communist (and the rest on the fact that he is black). Of course, Bigger only knows a very small amount of what communism is, and this he knows from a brief conversation with Jan and Mary. He did not kill because he sought, according to communist ideals, to break down a system that was economically unfair. He killed simply because he wanted to avoid trouble - because he was afraid. But naturally Bigger does not confess any of these feelings to Britten. 

Yeah; I killed the girl . . . Now, you know. You’ve got to help me. You in it as deep as me! You done spent some of the money . . . .

Related Characters: Bigger Thomas (speaker), Mary Dalton , Bessie
Page Number: 179
Explanation and Analysis:

Bessie might have spent some of the money that Bigger stole, and in this sense she is complicit with a very small part of Bigger's crime, but she was also forced to do these things - forced to help Bigger, with the implicit threat that, if she did not, he would harm her. Bessie has had little freedom to speak of throughout the novel, which is why she's gone along with Bigger in the first place - and now, Bigger uses this to ensnare her further. 

Bessie and Mary, in this sense, are both victims of Bigger's wrath, even before Bessie dies. Because of her race and class, Bigger knows that he can manipulate Bessie in ways he could not manipulate Mary - but Bigger asserted power over Mary anyway, through physical force at least. Even though Mary's death derived from a sense only of self-preservation, Bigger nevertheless sees himself, by this stage of the novel, as someone who is willing to kill again in order to save his own life. 

There was silence. Bigger stared without a thought or an image in his mind. There was just the old feeling, the feeling that he had had all his life: he was black and had done wrong; white men were looking at something with which they would soon accuse him.

Related Characters: Bigger Thomas
Related Symbols: The Furnace
Page Number: 219
Explanation and Analysis:

In the furnace room, surrounded by members of the new media, Bigger has a sense, even before Mary's bones are discovered not totally burnt in the furnace, that he is now no longer able to escape. He knows that, even if he were innocent, even if he had not killed Mary, even if he had managed to work peaceably in the Dalton house for many years, that there is something in his very blackness that would cause white people to suspect him of wrongdoing.

That Bigger himself has committed a heinous crime is, of course, true. But that Bigger has been a victim, throughout his life, of terrible acts of violence, large and small, implicit and explicit, is also true. Bigger has a sense, now, that the latter point can never justify the former - that no judge will look at his life and view his difficult circumstances as "making up" for murder. But Bigger also realizes how unfair the system is, how all its mechanisms, supposed to produce justice, would have been stacked against him even if he had done nothing out of the ordinary. 

Book 3 Quotes

And yet his desire to crush all faith in him was in itself built upon a sense of faith. The feelings of his body reasoned that if there could be no merging with the men and women about him, there should be a merging with some other part of the natural world in which he lived. Out of the mood of renunciation there sprang up in him again the will to kill.

Related Characters: Bigger Thomas
Page Number: 274
Explanation and Analysis:

In jail, Bigger has an opportunity to consider, in a more abstract and philosophical sense, the crimes he has committed, and the society in which he has committed them - and, before that, the environment in which he lived with his family. Bigger knows now that part of his wish, above all, was to be a part of a community larger than himself, to bond with the men and women around him. Distant from his mother and siblings, distant also from his friends, although he spent a great deal of time with them, Bigger sought for something beyond his own life - something large, a set of ideas or acts according to which he could live. This was Bigger's ambition, even if he did not know it.

Killing Mary was the signal mistake of Bigger's life, and it was deeply wrong. But that killing, and the acts that followed, were also the means by which Bigger's life began to change - at least, the means that caused Bigger to recognize the larger social forces at work in his life, and in the lives of those around him. 

Bigger, I’ve never done anything against you and your people in my life. But I’m a white man and it would be asking too much to ask you not to hate me, when every white man you see hates you . . . .

Related Characters: Jan (speaker), Bigger Thomas
Page Number: 287
Explanation and Analysis:

Jan, for his part, seems immensely understanding at this juncture in the novel, even though Bigger has essentially tried to tell the authorities that Jan murdered Mary, or was at least responsible for her disappearance. Jan understands that the circumstances of Bigger's life have been difficult, far more difficult than he could ever imagine. In contrast to his behavior the night that Bigger killed Mary, Jan now seems more willing to speak to Bigger directly, man to man. He no longer sees Bigger as an abstract representation of what it means to be "black" in Chicago, or of what it means to be a "worker" in a city where so much wealth is concentrated in so small a part of the population. In one of the novel's grander ironies, it is only after Mary's death that many of the characters are able to understand themselves and one another - and it is a bitter, bitter irony, too, for it has come at an immensely steep cost in innocent human lives. 

NEGRO KILLER SIGNS CONFESSIONS FOR TWO MURDERS. SHRINKS AT INQUEST WHEN CONFRONTED WITH BODY OF SLAIN GIRL. ARRAIGNED TOMORROW. REDS TAKE CHARGE OF KILLER’S DEFENSE. NOT GUILTY PLEAS LIKELY.

Related Characters: Bigger Thomas, Mary Dalton , Bessie
Page Number: 341
Explanation and Analysis:

This is an example of the kinds of headlines that the narrator and novelist imagine for Bigger's trial. It is obvious that Bigger is not afforded any kind of fair trial in the press - after all, he is a "killer" and not an "alleged killer" right in the headline, and the reporting of his dismay at the sight of the girl's body seems to show that, though he was capable of doing what he did, he is no longer capable of facing up to it. This, the newspapermen believe, is a sign of Bigger's underlying cowardice.

For the media and many parts of the white Chicago community at large, Bigger's trial is a means of placing further blame on African American populations. Crime, according to these mainstream white viewpoints, is a black problem because African American families do not care to protect their neighborhoods, or because criminality is somehow "inherent" to them. The newspaper thus does all it can to fan the flames of racial hatred in the city. 

What I killed for must’ve been good! It must have been good! When a man kills, it’s for something . . . . I didn’t know I was really alive in this world until I felt things hard enough to kill for ‘em . . . .

Related Characters: Bigger Thomas (speaker)
Page Number: 429
Explanation and Analysis:

Bigger, during his time in jail, tries his best to understand what he has done and why he has done it, before he is put to death by the state of Illinois. To this speech Max, his lawyer, has nothing substantive to say - Max is scared at the thought that Bigger believes he has achieved some level of insight through murder. Max is fundamentally a pacifist, even as he recognizes the events that have caused Bigger to become so violent. And Max finds, ultimately, that there is little he can do or say to Bigger to make sense of the violent mistakes Bigger has made, and through which he has brought his own life to an end.

Bigger, for his part, believes that his passions were powerful ones - that his anger against the restrictive elements of white society were themselves persuasive, even though killing is inherently wrong. He felt, in killing, that he was powerful and consequential, even if he sees during the trial that the murders of Mary and Bessie have only created more harm, more suffering, more pain in the world. At this bleak and somewhat contradictory point (at least on a moral level), the novel draws to a close just before Bigger is put to death.  

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Bigger Thomas Character Timeline in Native Son

The timeline below shows where the character Bigger Thomas appears in Native Son. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Book 1
Whiteness, Blackness, and Racism Theme Icon
Capitalism and Communism Theme Icon
Death, Life’s Purpose, and the Will to Live Theme Icon
...a single room in a tenement building, and consists of a mother and three children: Bigger, the oldest; Vera, the middle child; and Buddy, the youngest. As is their custom, the... (full context)
Capitalism and Communism Theme Icon
Anger and Charity Theme Icon
Death, Life’s Purpose, and the Will to Live Theme Icon
...Vera spot an enormous rat, running around the one-room apartment, and begin to scream, begging Bigger to do something about it—to kill the rat. Bigger tells Buddy to block off the... (full context)
Capitalism and Communism Theme Icon
Anger and Charity Theme Icon
Death, Life’s Purpose, and the Will to Live Theme Icon
But on a second throw, Bigger aims at the rat, which is near the wooden box looking for its hole and... (full context)
Capitalism and Communism Theme Icon
Crime and Justice Theme Icon
Anger and Charity Theme Icon
Death, Life’s Purpose, and the Will to Live Theme Icon
Ma chastises Bigger, wondering aloud why she even gave birth to him, and tells Buddy to put newspaper... (full context)
Crime and Justice Theme Icon
Death, Life’s Purpose, and the Will to Live Theme Icon
Ma also worries, aloud, that Bigger will get into trouble running around with his “gang.” Vera, who is now somewhat recovered... (full context)
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Anger and Charity Theme Icon
Death, Life’s Purpose, and the Will to Live Theme Icon
Bigger wolfs down his breakfast, as Vera and Ma remind him of the importance of the... (full context)
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Capitalism and Communism Theme Icon
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Anger and Charity Theme Icon
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Outside the apartment, Bigger contemplates his fate: he can either take a job he hates, and help support his... (full context)
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Capitalism and Communism Theme Icon
Crime and Justice Theme Icon
Death, Life’s Purpose, and the Will to Live Theme Icon
Bigger, still standing on the street corner near his apartment, realizes he has enough money either... (full context)
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Crime and Justice Theme Icon
Anger and Charity Theme Icon
Death, Life’s Purpose, and the Will to Live Theme Icon
...the first time the gang had robbed a white, as opposed to a black, merchant, Bigger runs into Vera, who is exiting the apartment on her way to her sewing lesson.... (full context)
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Capitalism and Communism Theme Icon
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On his way to the pool-hall, where the gang normally meets, Bigger runs into Gus, the gang-member who had initially planned the robbery of Blum’s. Bigger and... (full context)
Whiteness, Blackness, and Racism Theme Icon
Capitalism and Communism Theme Icon
Crime and Justice Theme Icon
Death, Life’s Purpose, and the Will to Live Theme Icon
Still looking wistfully at the sky, Bigger and Gus walk toward the pool-hall and play a game with each other called “white,”... (full context)
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Capitalism and Communism Theme Icon
Crime and Justice Theme Icon
Anger and Charity Theme Icon
Death, Life’s Purpose, and the Will to Live Theme Icon
Bigger, finally, remarks aloud to Gus that “white folks” don’t allow the African-American population to do... (full context)
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Capitalism and Communism Theme Icon
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Gus agrees with Bigger, to an extent, about the anger they both feel for white people, although Bigger seems... (full context)
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Death, Life’s Purpose, and the Will to Live Theme Icon
Jack and G.H. arrive at the bar, and Bigger continues to talk to the three of them about the robbery at Blum’s. Jack says... (full context)
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Capitalism and Communism Theme Icon
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Anger and Charity Theme Icon
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G.H. and Jack pull Bigger and Gus away, and Doc warns the boys, from the front of the pool-hall, not... (full context)
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Death, Life’s Purpose, and the Will to Live Theme Icon
Bigger and Jack have a competition to see who can masturbate the fastest in the darkness... (full context)
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Capitalism and Communism Theme Icon
Anger and Charity Theme Icon
Death, Life’s Purpose, and the Will to Live Theme Icon
...natives in Africa, and their interactions with the white colonizers who come to observe them. Bigger and Jack watch the movie for a while, as Bigger turns over in his mind... (full context)
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On their way back to the pool hall, Bigger leaves Jack, briefly, telling him he will meet him at Doc’s; Bigger goes inside his... (full context)
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Jack and G.H. attempt to hold Bigger back, but Bigger falls on Gus and begins to beat him up, showing that Bigger... (full context)
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After Jack and G.H. finally pull Bigger away from Gus, Gus runs out the back door of Doc’s pool hall; Jack and... (full context)
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Bigger returns home to his small apartment, and his mother asks why he came into the... (full context)
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Bigger’s mother rouses him at five, as it is beginning to grow dark outside; she says... (full context)
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Bigger walks up to the Daltons’ house and, not knowing where the “service” or back entrance... (full context)
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Henry asks Bigger for his “relief paperwork,” or the document given by the Chicago workers’ relief agency discussing... (full context)
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Henry, consulting the paperwork, sees that Bigger is a “hard worker” if given a job he enjoys. Bigger concedes that this is... (full context)
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At this, Mary walks into the office, as if on cue; Bigger recognizes her from the news-reel he saw with Jack earlier that afternoon. Mary introduces herself... (full context)
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After Mary leaves, Bigger worries that he has said something wrong about unions and capitalism, but Henry, perhaps sensing... (full context)
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Peggy tells Bigger more about the Dalton family as he eats bacon and eggs in the kitchen, after... (full context)
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Peggy also tells Bigger that Mary is a good child but “wild,” that she runs around with a crowd... (full context)
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Bigger lies on his new bed in the Dalton house for a moment, and thinks about... (full context)
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After getting and drinking his water, Bigger realizes it’s about time to take Mary to her lecture. He checks out the car... (full context)
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...apartment in the outer Loop, and Jan, the man Mary was with in the news-reel Bigger saw earlier that day, comes out to introduce himself to Bigger, and to greet Mary.... (full context)
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Bigger is also confused and angry at Jan’s informality—paradoxically, Bigger feels even less comfortable in his... (full context)
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...island of wealth amidst the poverty of the South Side. The car reaches Ernie’s, and Bigger believes that Jan and Mary will go inside to eat while Bigger remains in the... (full context)
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Jan asks Bigger what he likes to eat, and Jan offers, without listening to Bigger’s reply, to buy... (full context)
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Jan then tells Bigger that he (Jan) is a member of the Communist party, with which Mary sympathizes, and... (full context)
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Bigger, Mary, and Jan are all fairly drunk from the significant amount of alcohol they’ve consumed... (full context)
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After briefly trying to sing “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot,” and asking Bigger to sing along, Mary and Jan decide that it’s probably time to call it a... (full context)
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At the edge of the park, Jan gets out of the car, shakes Bigger’s hand once again, and offers him some pamphlets of Communist literature. Jan says he would... (full context)
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Bigger half supports, half drags Mary upstairs, up the back staircase, and when he reaches the... (full context)
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Bigger hears a sound as he lies atop Mary in Mary’s bedroom—it is Mrs. Dalton, who... (full context)
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...Mary has come home drunk many times before, and Mrs. Dalton does not sense that Bigger is in the room with her, nor that anything else untoward has happened to Mary.... (full context)
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Bigger realizes, through a series of rapid reactions, that he will need to concoct a story... (full context)
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Bigger, with great effort, manages to fold Mary’s body in half and stuff it into the... (full context)
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Bigger leaves the trunk in the basement and goes back outside, where he sees that the... (full context)
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Bigger, in a half-daze, walks outside toward his own apartment, deciding to sleep there tonight. He... (full context)
Book 2
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Bigger awakes and realizes, just as his eyes open, that his has killed Mary and stuffed... (full context)
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Bigger looks at the clock; it’s seven a.m. Bigger then decides that, in the hour and... (full context)
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Vera and Buddy soon also wake up, and Vera, like Ma, asks Bigger if he got the job, and how much he’s making. Bigger angrily tells Vera the... (full context)
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As Ma is preparing breakfast, Bigger realizes that this is perhaps the final time he will eat with his family. Although... (full context)
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Buddy comes after Bigger and meets him on the staircase; Buddy hands his brother the large wad of cash... (full context)
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Walking back to the Daltons’, Bigger stops off in a drugstore, where he finds G.H. at the soda counter. Bigger buys... (full context)
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On the tram-ride to the Daltons’, Bigger thinks about the possibility, however improbable it might seem, of a large group of black... (full context)
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Bigger’s musings are cut short by the end of his tram-ride; he arrives at the Dalton... (full context)
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Peggy goes upstairs to get dressed, and Bigger goes down to the furnace-room, where he fears that Mary’s body might still be visible... (full context)
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Peggy returns to the kitchen and asks if Bigger has seen Mary come downstairs yet that day; Bigger says that he has not, and... (full context)
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When he returns to the Daltons’ house, Bigger is asked by Peggy if he’d like any breakfast; he has no appetite, but agrees... (full context)
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Bigger, in his room, hears Mrs. Dalton and Peggy talking in the hall; he goes into... (full context)
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...from going to Detroit as planned. Mrs. Dalton says that she’d like to speak with Bigger later that day, after she’s thought for a moment about where Mary could be. (full context)
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Some time passes, which Bigger spends dozing in his room. Mrs. Dalton has Peggy ring for Bigger; Bigger hears it... (full context)
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Bigger decides that he will take the afternoon and visit with Bessie, his girlfriend, whom he... (full context)
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Bigger arrives at Bessie’s small, squalid apartment, and greets her cheerfully. Bessie does not know “what’s... (full context)
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Bessie is alarmed at the sight of all this cash, and asks Bigger several times where he could have gotten it all at once. They count the money;... (full context)
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Bessie continues to ask Bigger about the nature of what he’s been up to, and Bigger replies that it will... (full context)
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Bigger decides, on the fly, to tell Bessie a half-true version of what has happened to... (full context)
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Bigger and Bessie leave the bar; Bessie is worried about the plan, since it is so... (full context)
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This feeling, that everyone in the world is blind, and that he, Bigger, can see, makes Bigger feel proud of his own strength. He reaches the Daltons’ house,... (full context)
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Mr. and Mrs. Dalton come down to the kitchen to speak with Bigger before he leaves to pick up the trunk from the station. Mr. Dalton asks Bigger,... (full context)
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Bigger goes to the train station, picks up the trunk, and returns to the Dalton house.... (full context)
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Britten says hello to Bigger and asks, first, to see in the trunk; because it is locked, Britten will need... (full context)
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Bigger realizes that now is the time to go into more detail with his story, in... (full context)
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Britten suddenly begins yelling at Bigger, asking if he, too, is a Communist, and if Bigger is therefore in on Jan’s... (full context)
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Bigger goes back up to his room and hears Mr. Dalton and Britten talking in the... (full context)
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Bigger lies down and has a nightmare about the previous night, in which he, Bigger, is... (full context)
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...events of the previous evening—he does not lie, but instead says that, although he gave Bigger some Communist literature, he, Jan, did not come back to the Daltons’, nor did he... (full context)
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On the way out of the house, Jan runs into Bigger, who has gone down the staircase (Britten and Mr. Dalton have already left Bigger’s room... (full context)
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Bigger goes to a corner store and gruffly asks for some paper, a pencil, and an... (full context)
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Bigger puts on gloves (so his fingerprints cannot be traced on the letter), and writes a... (full context)
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Bessie comes up to Bigger after he finishes the note, asking once again where Mary is, and if Bigger knows... (full context)
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Bigger gets Bessie, finally and grudgingly, to agree to wait for the “drop-off” of the money... (full context)
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Bigger finds that a large dinner has already been set out for him by Peggy. Bigger... (full context)
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Bigger goes back up to his room, from which he can hear a commotion downstairs. Henry... (full context)
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Britten greets Bigger curtly in the furnace room; Britten has been joined by three men, his “associates” at... (full context)
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Britten asks Bigger, pointedly, if Bigger is a Communist, and Bigger says he is not, and that he... (full context)
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...but does not provide any more information. One nameless reporter attempts to talk softly to Bigger and slips him some money, asking him for all the information he has; but Bigger... (full context)
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...charges against him; Henry goes on to apologize to Jan for the statements made by Bigger and others that put him in jail in the first place. Henry then announces that... (full context)
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...tell how the ransom will be delivered). As Henry is telling the reporters this information, Bigger stands quietly in the corner of the furnace room and wonders if the plan will... (full context)
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The reporters ask Britten if they may interview Bigger, since he was the last to see Mary alive the previous night. Britten says Bigger... (full context)
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...ask more questions about Jan—including if he’s Jewish—and others try to get more information from Bigger, who stands more or less mute in the furnace room; the reporters conclude that Bigger... (full context)
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The reporters take more pictures of Bigger—this picture-taking causes Bigger to feel even more uncomfortable. Peggy comes downstairs with food for the... (full context)
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Bigger tries to shove more coal into the furnace without clearing out the ashes, but the... (full context)
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Bigger realizes that, if he doesn’t go, he will be questioned once again by Britten and... (full context)
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On his way to a tram-stop, which will take him to Bessie’s, Bigger stops at a kiosk and buys a copy of a newspaper, in which he reads... (full context)
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Bigger tells Bessie everything—that he truly did kill Mary, and that the reporters found her body... (full context)
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Bigger and Bessie leave Bessie’s apartment and walk outside for several blocks, until they find a... (full context)
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Bigger goes to the air-shaft once again and thinks about his murder of Mary and his... (full context)
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Bigger holds the brick above Bessie’s head and hesitates for a moment, wondering if he can... (full context)
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Bigger dumps Bessie’s body down the air-shaft, only to realize, after he’s done so, that Bessie... (full context)
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Bigger wakes up the next morning and, curious about the recent developments in his case, steals... (full context)
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Bigger realizes that he has to find a place to hide out. He goes first to... (full context)
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Bigger moves to the back of the kitchen and tries to sleep, as he has barely... (full context)
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Bigger then hears, after several minutes, the sounds of motors and sirens, which by now have... (full context)
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A bullet flies past Bigger’s head, and Bigger realizes that he is captured; there is nothing he can do to... (full context)
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Bigger collapses under the powerful stream of water, and the policemen tell him repeatedly to put... (full context)
Book 3
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Bigger is “dragged” from one police precinct to another, in an effort to get him to... (full context)
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Bigger is led by police to the Cook County Morgue, where he spots Mr. and Mrs.... (full context)
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A policeman gives him a copy of the most recent edition, where Bigger reads of his capture. Bigger also reads a physical description of himself, his skin color,... (full context)
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Bigger drops the paper and lies back down on his cot. A period of time passes,... (full context)
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...begins speaking, though it is difficult for him to get the words out. Jan tells Bigger that, though at first it was hard for him (Jan) to accept that Bigger had... (full context)
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Bigger wonders if Jan isn’t trying to trick him, but Bigger realizes that Jan wants to... (full context)
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At this point, Buckley, the State’s Attorney whose picture Bigger saw on a poster in the beginning of the novel, walks into the cell as... (full context)
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Bigger’s family and the rest of the gang enter the cell, too, which now contains most... (full context)
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Ma tells Bigger that, in heaven, the family will be reunited, and that Bigger ought to pray for... (full context)
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The Thomas family leaves the cell, and Buckley tells Bigger that he’s caused a great deal of pain for everyone around him, and that the... (full context)
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Buckley asks Bigger where Bessie is, and tells Bigger he knows that Bigger raped and killed Bessie. Buckley... (full context)
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Buckley brings in a secretary to take down Bigger’s confession; Buckley makes it seem as though, for an instant, he is sympathetic with Bigger’s... (full context)
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Bigger lies on the floor, convulsed by sobs, realizing that, now that he has confessed to... (full context)
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Bigger is led into a courtroom for the inquest—or the hearing in which “facts regarding the... (full context)
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...if they have any reasonable objection to serving on the jury for the trial of Bigger Thomas; they say they have no objections. The deputy coroner calls Jan to the stand,... (full context)
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...whether Jan would approve of Mary marrying an African American, whether Jan got Mary and Bigger drunk in order to facilitate a romantic interaction between the two, and whether the Communist... (full context)
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...finds it necessary to bring into the courtroom the mutilated body of Bessie, about whom Bigger has thought very little since her murder. Max and Bigger are both shocked that this... (full context)
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As Bigger is once again led through the hallways of the coroner’s office and the municipal building,... (full context)
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...his way out of the Dalton house, once again led by police with weapons drawn, Bigger is spat on by a white citizen, and Bigger sees a lone cross, high on... (full context)
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Bigger realizes that the preacher has been waiting for him at the jail , and though... (full context)
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Bigger lies still for a while, then rises and realizes that, even here, in jail, the... (full context)
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Bigger is told by a guard that Max is here to see him; Bigger is taken... (full context)
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Max asks if Bigger raped Mary, and Bigger repeats that he did not, although he considered it briefly when... (full context)
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Max asks Bigger if he went to church, if he believes in God, and Bigger says that he... (full context)
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Max goes on to ask Bigger if Bigger has ever voted, or cared about politics in any way; Bigger responds that... (full context)
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Max tells Bigger that they will begin by entering a not-guilty plea at Bigger’s arraignment, followed by a... (full context)
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Over the next week, before his trial begins, Bigger is again visited by his mother and Vera, who ask if Bigger has been praying... (full context)
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Max arrives on the day of Bigger’s trial, tells him to straighten his tie and look presentable for court, and walks with... (full context)
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Buckley, as State’s Attorney, is representing the prosecution, and Max, as Bigger’s attorney, enters officially a plea of guilty, which is a change from the plea of... (full context)
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The judge asks Bigger to rise and to acknowledge (after stating that he has only received an eighth-grade education)... (full context)
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...begins his statement, that Buckley be allowed to call sixty witnesses for the prosecution against Bigger; Max argues that this number is an exorbitant one, designed only to inflame the anger... (full context)
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...of witnesses, each of whom can attest only to a small set of details regarding Bigger’s character and appearance, and each of whom argues that Bigger seemed “sane” when they met... (full context)
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...be calling no witnesses, but will instead make a plea, at the appropriate time, that Bigger be sentenced to life in prison rather than to execution. The judge asks Max to... (full context)
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The case recommences the next day. Max begins a long, impassioned speech on Bigger’s behalf, arguing not that Bigger deserves total clemency, but rather that Bigger’s life circumstances ought... (full context)
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...lyric disquisition on the nature of injustice in the United States. Max makes clear that Bigger’s crimes are crimes, and that society is not responsible for the crimes as such. But... (full context)
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Max states that killing Bigger will not solve the larger problems that face Chicago and the rest of the country.... (full context)
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Max says that Bigger did not state, in his deposition at the inquest, or in his confession, that “all... (full context)
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Max closes his argument by stating that sending Bigger to prison would be an act of mercy and an act of courage—it would mean... (full context)
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...rises and delivers his closing argument, in which he once again rehearses the details of Bigger’s crimes (while saying that he will not rehearse these details); Buckley also attributes Max’s motive,... (full context)
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Bigger and Max are called back into court after recess, and the verdict is delivered swiftly... (full context)
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Max visits Bigger in his jail cell in the days before his execution. Max apologizes to Bigger, saying... (full context)
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Max is greatly moved by Bigger’s sentiments, and he takes Bigger to a window in his cell, showing him the buildings... (full context)
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As Max is getting ready to leave, Bigger says that he’s not sure why he killed, but that after he did, he began... (full context)